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why (not)echo is important -- part 2


Last week I posted a comment with my views on why, necho is important. It was done from a more technical point of view, but the arguments ended up in what's really important anyway: the users, because in the end it's about creating useful applications, interoperability, etc.

I was reading Steve Kirk's open letter to the RSS community and I thought I'd elaborate on one the points on that I have mentioned before, (and, as I've also noted earlier Jon Udell made similar comments recently), that I think is getting lost in the discussion, and thus muddling things a little. To see the rest of my argument, please refer to the previous entry I mentioned above.

Before going on: Steve puts forward the idea of creating a standards body for the current formats. I agree that would be the ideal case, but it's plainly clear that at this moment it can't happen. I think everyone, from their side of the fence, would agree with that as well. As I've said in one of the posts I referenced above:

I think there's no doubt that Echo's happening, which is good. Also, there's no doubt that, ideally, it would be better if the process involved less infighting and was more evolutionary.
So, the reality is that we were not going anywhere before. The reasons aren't important at this point, and I don't want to dwell into a discussion that has been going on for long enough, and one in which, plainly, there can be no "winners". What matters is where we are today, and how to go forward from here.

On to what I was really going after, what I consider a point that has been largely ignored in this "compatibility" discussion.

The point is this: creating a new weblog syndication/API format will not be disruptive for users.

Why do I say this?

Consider the state of things today: weblog tools generate feeds in any of several formats (sometimes in more than one). The BBC uses one format. The New York Times uses another. When tools or sites provide information in different formats, they are, in fact, incompatible.

Do users know this? Do they care?

No.

Why?

Because tool providers have evolved to deal with a situation of multiple formats, and support all of them transparently. I know, because I've written software that works that way. All other aggregators do the same.

So the fact is that, today, users are not being directly affected by the multiplicity of formats, because we, the developers, have evolved to support a splintered market in a consistent way.

In the previous paragraph I said "users are not being directly affected" because they are being affected indirectly. How? Mainly, through the extended development time that supporting multiple formats mean for developers, and consequently less time to be able to do new things.

So how does this reality affect the necho/RSS argument?

In my opinion, it gives us a good indication of what will happen when necho is "released". Tools will start to support necho as well as RSS. The formats will coexist, just as RSS 0.91 and RDF and RSS 2.0 coexist today. Furthermore, this coexistence will be transparent, just like today. Over time, necho will, hopefully, become the standard. In the meantime, there will not be a major catastrophe of incompatibility (although we can't rule out minor problems). Eventually, some of the other formats might become less used, and will be phased out (this is something that is already happening, for example, with the transition from RSS 0.91 to RSS 2.0). And because, currently, RSS is being almost exclusively used for updates and regenerated constantly at each endpoint, there will be little if any switchover cost, again, as an example of this I put forward the transition from RSS 0.91 to RSS 2.0 that happened last year. (This is a point on which I disagree with Steve, who makes comparisons to Linux and Windows, which I think is innacurate. The cost of switching binary formats is of a completely different order than the cost of switching RSS, as I've mentioned here, and as clearly shown by the RSS 0.91 to RSS 2.0 switch, which happened late last year).

Obviously, it's on us, the developer community, to add necho support without disruption, and it's not a problem. After all, we are already doing it today, and moving most (hopefully all) tools into necho will eventually reduce work for developers in the future, allowing us to, finally, concentrate on improving the tools rather than on how to let them connect to each other.

Note: As I said in the previous entry: this is an emotional subject for many people, so I'd appreciate it if the comments, if any :), remain on-topic, that is, they talk about the text itself, or the ideas, rather than about the people that stand for/against an idea, both for comments on comments, or comments on the entry. Thanks.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 6 2003 at 5:47 PM

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